How Novels Work

John Mullan, Author Oxford University Press, USA $35 (346p) ISBN 978-0-19-928177-0
Based on Mullan's weekly ""Elements of Fiction"" column from UK's The Guardian, this volume intelligently dismantles a hefty stack of beloved novels to find out what makes them tick. Mullan is interested in fiction that most resonates with contemporary audiences-the books that readers remember and are eager to share and discuss-and, consequently, a number of book-club favorites turn up here, including Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime. Moving with critical dexterity from Martin Amis to Richard Yates to Virginia Woolf to a small library of other well-known authors, Mullan's methods-which are, in effect, to claw at the ineffable qualities of modern-day classics until some concrete observations emerge-are consistently readable and relevant, illuminating well each chapter's topic (Genre, Voices, Structure, Detail and Style among them). Although Mullan notes in the introduction that he revised, rearranged, and rewrote the columns extensively, the book retains-to its benefit-a serial, journalistic feel, moving the ambitious project from topic to topic and book to book at a pace that allows for real mechanical investigation but bars stalling.
Reviewed on: 12/04/2006
Release date: 12/01/2006
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